SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021 Rs. 20
Opening Doors to Financial Services Supporting Women Entrepreneurs Revival of India’s Small Businesses
Growth and Innovation
V O LU M E L X I I N U M B E R 4
Gender Equity Builds Better Businesses
A Fruitful Venture
22 26 29
Opening Doors to Financial Services Lending a Hand to Small Businesses
Intellectual Property Training Helps Start-ups
36 38 42
Investing in the United States Spotlighting Women Entrepreneurs Courtesy WE Hub
16 Editor in Chief Michael L. Cavey
Art Director/ Production Chief Hemant Bhatnagar
Editor Deepanjali Kakati Hindi Editor Giriraj Agarwal Urdu Editor Syed Sulaiman Akhtar
Deputy Art Directors / Production Assistants Qasim Raza, Shah Faisal Khan
Empowering AWEsome Entrepreneurs
Supporting Women Entrepreneurs
Breaking the Glass Ceiling
Solar Loan Program for India’s Small Businesses Revival of India’s Small Businesses
Exploring Mentorship Networks
Doing Business in the U.S.
38 Front cover: Photograph by metamorworks/ iStock/Getty Images
* Articles with a star may be reprinted with permission. Those without a star are copyrighted and may not be reprinted. Contact SPAN at 011-23472135 or email@example.com
Printed and published by David H. Kennedy on behalf of the Government of the United States of America and printed at Infinity Advertising Services (P) Ltd., Plot No.-171 & 172, Sector58, Faridabad 121004 and published at the Public Affairs Section, American Embassy, American Center, 24 K.G. Marg, New Delhi 110001. Opinions expressed in this 44-page magazine do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Government.
Courtesy Kshama Fernandes
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GENDER EQUITY Builds Better Businesses By MICHAEL GALLANT
Gender diversity in business leadership has major benefits for companies, stemming from wider communication and networking skills, new perspectives, improved problemsolving skills and critical thinking.
Kshama Fernandes, chief executive officer of Northern Arc Capital, encourages women to “continue to be themselves, to continue to feel proud of being women leaders, of their styles of management and their approaches to handling problems and crises.” To share articles go to https://spanmag.com SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021 3
Change will happen only when we feel a strong sense of urgency and a personal sense of responsibility toward addressing this issue.
4 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021
decade ago, it might have been difficult to find many Indian corporations run by women. But now, however, the world has changed. In increasing numbers, women chief executive officers (CEOs) lead groundbreaking enterprises across diverse fields like business, finance, agriculture and technology. The talented CEOs are helping redefine the role of women in India’s future. For all involved, this is a very good thing. “There is absolutely no doubt that diverse leadership creates value for all,” says Kshama Fernandes, chief executive officer of the innovative financial platform Northern Arc Capital. Corporate boards that include women generate higher levels of financial success than ones that are men only, she describes, and gender diversity in business leadership lays the groundwork for radically creative innovations. Research supports the idea that empowering women benefits everyone. A 2016 report by the McKinsey Global Institute stated that if every country could enhance the number of women in business leadership, the world could generate trillions of dollars in higher income. Diverse voices in executive offices also lead to better business strategy, decisions and management. “Even with the very best of intentions, we have a tendency to gravitate towards people who are like us,” said Tessa Misiaszek, a professor at Hult International Business School, during a webinar on women in business. “It takes a real leader to say, ‘I need someone to challenge me.’ That challenge can spawn
new creativity, innovation and growth.” When women assume roles of corporate leadership, they bring not only their own life experiences, perspectives, networks and training, but a unique set of strengths that can benefit businesses of all sorts. In a study by the Hay Group, women were found to consistently score better than men in the highly valuable areas of adaptability, teamwork and conflict management. Studies also show that including women in boardrooms, including in the very top positions, enhances the abilities of businesses to navigate problems and strategize solutions. Despite such tremendous benefits, women continue to face numerous obstacles as they rise in the world of business. In the workplace, women continue to encounter discrimination when it comes to hiring, pay rates and promotions. Beyond that, it’s both easy and troubling for women CEOs to be
Studies show that including women in boardrooms, including in the very top positions, enhances the abilities of businesses to navigate problems and strategize solutions.
mistaken for a spouse or secretary at gatherings, says Fernandes. Women leaders must regularly work harder than their male peers to make themselves heard in meetings overwhelmingly dominated by men. In the face of gender-based challenges, Fernandes encourages women to “proudly claim their space under the sun” and “continue to be themselves, to continue to feel proud of being women leaders, of their styles of management and their approaches to handling problems and crises.” Fernandes also encourages both men and women in business leadership roles to make gender equity a central topic of discussion and action. “Change will happen only when we feel a strong sense of urgency and a personal sense of responsibility toward addressing this issue,” she says. Fernandes is one of several women CEOs
who are transforming Indian industries through grit, innovation and brilliance, with support from the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC). The U.S. government’s development finance institution, DFC partners with the private sector to finance solutions to the most critical challenges facing the developing world today. Read more about Fernandes as well as Purnima Khandelwal and Hardika Shah, two other highly successful CEOs in India whose enterprises have received financial support from DFC, in the following articles. Fernandes, Khandelwal and Shah have grown their innovative companies into national or international forces, and are inspiring future generations of female leaders. Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City. SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021 5
A Fruitful Venture
By MICHAEL GALLANT
Courtesy Purnima Khandelwal
ith operations across eight states and 35 countries, InI Farms is one of the most creative, successful and progressive fruit suppliers in India. The company specializes in bringing fresh food to consumers as directly as possible via an innovative “farm to fork” model and has connected over 5,000 small-scale farms with food retailers around the world. Purnima Khandelwal is the co-founder, chief executive officer and visionary behind InI Farms. After studying economics and business at St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata, and T A Pai Management Institute, Manipal, Khandelwal built a successful consulting firm that focused on areas including technology, engineering and agriculture. Through her work, she was surprised to discover that India’s fruit industry was fragmented and ripe for innovation. Khandelwal co-founded InI Farms in 2009 with a strong focus on efficient operations, equal pay and treatment for women, and farming practices that are environmentally safe and sustainable. Today, Khandelwal has grown InI Farms into a worldwide success. The company has exported over 40,000 tons of fresh bananas, pomegranates and other foods to the global market, including Malaysia, countries in the Middle East, Europe and beyond. InI Farms’ expansion shows no signs of
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slowing. “I am happy to see that our hard work and determination have paid off,” Khandelwal says. “When I began my journey with InI Farms, India had almost no presence in the international market due to limited post-harvest mechanisms and export channels, and lack of expertise. The opportunity for growth was humongous.” Seizing such a tremendous opportunity wasn’t easy though. Among other challenges, Khandelwal had to work hard to overcome preconceptions and prejudice among farmers and businessmen who had never worked with a female executive before. “When I started my career in agriculture, it was mostly a male-dominated sector,” says Khandelwal. “That did not deter me from being an entrepreneur. I had complete trust in the vision of the company and had the drive to create a valuable global brand.” Khandelwal has been encouraged by how attitudes have changed within her industry over the years. “Women have played a crucial role in agricultural and allied fields since the very beginning,” she says. “Today, it is inspiring to see women progress from just being farm labor to positions of leadership in the agricultural ecosystem and elsewhere.” InI Farms’ success captured the attention of
Purnima Khandelwal’s INI Farms has connected over 5,000 small-scale Indian farms with food retailers around the world through an innovative “farm to fork” model.
U.S. International Development Finance Corporation https://www.dfc.gov/
financiers seeking to provide support for the business and contribute to its growth. In October 2019, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a U.S. government agency that transformed into the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) later that year, the Ford Foundation and Citi Inclusive Finance introduced Scaling Enterprise, a $100 million loan guarantee facility. This facility enabled Citi to provide earlystage financing in local currency to companies that expand access to products and services for lowincome communities in emerging markets. One of the first two transactions under this facility was with InI Farms, where the partners committed $5 million in financing to help smallholder farmers in India access export markets and increase incomes by as much as 20 percent. Khandelwal is proud to have paved the way for new generations of women entrepreneurs. “I would advise all the young women to always believe in themselves and the value addition that they bring to a brand,” she says, “and not be afraid to pursue unexpected paths.” Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.
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Northern Arc Capital, led by
Kshama Fernandes, provides financial access to underserved households and businesses across India.
Opening Doors to Financial Services By MICHAEL GALLANT
8 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021
Northern Arc Capital
Photographs courtesy Kshama Fernandes
n 2009, Kshama Fernandes and a small group of likeminded people came together to reimagine how everyone in India could access the power and potential of financial services—and the results of their collaboration speak for themselves. As CEO of the innovative financial platform Northern Arc Capital, Fernandes has helped raise over Rs. 950 billion in financing for clients, who in turn have impacted over 40 million Indian women across 28 states and seven union territories. “We set out to create a platform that would provide access to finance to underserved households and businesses,” says Fernandes. “We wanted to create a platform that would bring together borrowers and lenders across sectors, geographies and offerings.” Fernandes’ deeper motivation for increasing Indians’ access to financial services is simple but powerful: “I have closely seen poverty and witnessed lives of people who have little to fall back upon,” she says. “Northern Arc has given me the empowerment and the ability to change that world for the better.” Fernandes grew up in a small fishing village in Goa, learned from hand-me-down books at the local village school, and persevered to earn a Ph.D., “all because I had timely access to the right opportunities,” she says. She began working on Northern Arc not with the intention of rising to become its leader, but of wanting to address the financial challenges faced by many excluded and underserved communities. “I believe that access to finance can be empowering, and it can give wings to dreams,” she says. “Providing finance in a dignified and commercially sustainable manner can be transformational.” At first, Fernandes served as Northern Arc’s chief risk officer, a role in which she used her expertise in data analytics to understand the best ways to provide credit to underserved communities. She took the lead as CEO in 2012 and has helped grow the company into a powerful force for opportunity and equity. In March 2021, Northern Arc received $50 million debt financing from the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), to be used for on-lending to financial institutions as well as lending directly to retail customers. This was among the first major facilities that were sanctioned by global development financial institutions to the nonbanking financial companies sector post the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. DFC, the U.S. government’s development finance institution, partners with the private sector to finance solutions to the most critical challenges facing the developing world today.
Top: As CEO of Northern Arc Capital, Kshama Fernandes (center) has helped raise over Rs. 950 billion in financing for clients, who in turn have impacted over 40 million Indian women across 28 states and seven union territories. Above: Fernandes (center) meets a group of students from Stanford University at the Northern Arc Capital office in 2019.
“Communities across the globe continue to face challenges in food security, sanitation and financial inclusion–especially when it comes to rural and women-owned enterprises,” said Acting DFC Chief Executive Officer Dev Jagadesan. “DFC’s investment in Northern Arc represents an investment in women’s economic empowerment and sends a powerful message of U.S. support for gender equity.” While Fernandes is thrilled with Northern Arc’s success, she sees more work to be done. Only eight percent of Indian adults have borrowed money from banks, companies or institutions, she says—and increased availability of loans can empower families, communities and small businesses to grow and thrive. “I keep thinking about the possibilities that will open up when there is equal and efficient access to finance for everyone,” Fernandes says. “I keep thinking about what that can mean for each individual and for the nation. That keeps me going.” Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.
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Courtesy Hardika Shah
Kinara Capital supports underserved small businesses, including women entrepreneurs, through collateral-free business loans.
Lending a Hand to By MICHAEL GALLANT
10 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021
s founder and CEO of the Bengaluru-based financial technology company Kinara Capital, Hardika Shah leads with a simple but powerful mission: to open the vast benefits of the financial world for underserved small business entrepreneurs in India. Shah first became inspired to pursue this ambitious goal thanks to her mother, who ran a small business in Mumbai. “I saw how difficult it was for her to build her business due to lack of financing. Years later, I reconnected with people from my early days on a visit back to India,” Shah says, referring to her return after 15 years of studying and working in other countries. “It made me realize that the struggles which my mother faced to set up a small business were exactly the same two decades later.” Indeed, many small and women-owned businesses remain locked out of financial opportunities that could help them grow, Shah says. And though there are currently over 60 million similar enterprises in India that employ over 120 million people, “most formal lending institutions do not lend to them, especially without property collateral,” she describes. Shah and her colleagues work hard to reverse that troubling dynamic. To date, Kinara Capital has opened over 100 branches in more than 90 Indian cities to provide collateral-free business loans to small business entrepreneurs in need. “We have also introduced a discounted loan program, HerVikas, for women entrepreneurs and pledged to disburse at least $15 million to women-owned businesses in India,” Shah says. The results speak for themselves: Kinara Capital’s work has helped create over $100 million in added income for the rising entrepreneurs to which the firm lends, and supported hundreds of thousands of jobs around India. Along with Shah, Kinara Capital is run mostly by women—a notable fact, given that banking stubbornly remains a field dominated by men. In her hiring and other business practices, Shah draws inspiration from notable feminists from the past and present to elevate the role of women in finance. “At Kinara Capital, the CEO, CFO and the majority of our management team are all women. And, I am very proud that we have demonstrated growth and profitability in a heavily maledominated field,” says Shah. “An S&P report recently proved that companies with both women CEOs and
CFOs performed better. Yet, even with Fortune 500 companies, there are less than five companies that have women in both CEO and CFO roles. Finance or not, we all have a long way to go!” In February 2021, Kinara Capital secured $10 million from IndusInd Bank, with a 100 percent guarantee from the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), for the expansion of financial inclusion of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) in the manufacturing, trading and services sectors in India. DFC, the U.S. government’s development finance institution, partners with the private sector to finance solutions to the most critical challenges facing the developing world today. “MSMEs galvanize India’s economy with income generation and job creation and there is an everincreasing demand for financing for businesses to rebuild and grow this year,” says Shah. “This investment from IndusInd Bank and DFC will accelerate financial inclusion of small businesses, thereby invigorating local economies.” “We hold the organizations that we fund to a very high standard and Kinara Capital is a role model when it comes to last-mile delivery,” said Loren Rodwin, managing director, Social Enterprise Finance Team, Office of Development Credit at DFC. “Commitment towards financial inclusion from Kinara Capital has made it possible for us to collaboratively help India’s small business entrepreneurs. We are motivated by the high potential and the high prospects of the diverse MSME sector in India and proud to partner with both IndusInd and Kinara Capital.” To girls and women who wish to follow in Shah’s footsteps, she offers the following advice: “You must learn to become okay early on with being a round peg in a square hole. You will be constantly questioned and judged no matter who you are and what you do, how you look, so let that not impede your confidence and stay focused on your goals. And, I would add that girls and women of any age today are critical to bridging the gender gap. Each one of you has the ability to uplift yourself and other girls and women in your lifetime.” Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.
Small Businesses To share articles go to https://spanmag.com SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021 11
Training Helps Start-ups
By LEIGH HARTMAN
12 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021
The United States is helping entrepreneurs in India build businesses and protect their innovative ideas.
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Courtesy Suchin Jain
t Nexus, a start-up incubator at American Center New Delhi, cutting-edge businesses are learning how to develop and protect innovative ideas. Start-up founder Suchin Jain, whose company Inoviea patented a solar panel cleaning system that doesn’t require water or moving parts, says that working with the Nexus incubator helped him develop and focus his business. The 2019 Nexus start-up class “was a great learning experience that fine-tuned my understanding of the start-up process,” says Jain. He says the Nexus team guided and supported his start-up efforts. Nexus is a collaboration between U.S. Embassy New Delhi and the Alliance for Commercialization and Innovation Research (ACIR), a global nonprofit that supports economic development and growth through innovation. The Nexus start-up program brings “American best practices in entrepreneurship and incubation to India and links promising Indian start-ups with U.S. businesses,” says Erik Azulay, president of ACIR and manager of the Nexus program. ACIR is proud to be a part of “the U.S. Embassy’s commitment to supporting the Indian innovation ecosystem and joint U.S.-Indian prosperity.” At the incubator, start-up founders undergo a nine-week intensive course that covers everything from developing ideas and securing financing to pitching their product to customers. Intellectual property is a key focus of the Nexus program. By giving people ownership of their ideas, intellectual property allows entrepreneurs to protect their inventions, artists to sell their work and businesses to establish unique brands. Intellectual property is a foundation of modern business. For World Intellectual Property Day on April 26, President Joe Biden issued a proclamation highlighting the critical role “small businesses play in our society and the ways intellectual property can help support their continued growth and resilience.” In addition to the Nexus program, the U.S.
Suchin Jain’s company Inoviea patented a solar panel cleaning system that doesn’t require water or moving parts. He says the Nexus team guided and supported his start-up efforts.
Embassy is committed to supporting innovation in India through its U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in New Delhi, which educates students, entrepreneurs and startups across India on intellectual property protection and how to use it to mitigate business risks. Intellectual property training is crucial for start-ups, says Rahul Bagga, the managing director of Aumirah, an intellectual property analytics firm. Bagga mentors and trains start-up founders as part of the Nexus program. He says when starting a business, founders have to make sure they understand their own rights and the rights of others. During his trainings, Bagga addresses the rules of intellectual property systems in India, the United States and Europe, and how founders should protect their ideas under each system. He focuses on helping start-ups fit intellectual property into their broader business strategy and avoid getting overwhelmed by intellectual property issues. Nexus isn’t trying to turn start-up founders into “IP lawyers or professionals,” Bagga says. Rather, it’s trying to help start-ups make decisions and evaluate intellectual property as part of an overall plan. Inoviea has already patented its solar panel cleaning technology in India and has applied for a U.S. patent. Jain says Inoviea is growing at 100 percent year over year and has a positive cash flow. He says the Nexus program was “inspiring and gave me renewed focus to continue building on my passion for innovation.” Article courtesy ShareAmerica SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021 13
S Indian companies looking to invest in the United States have an ally at their side: SelectUSA.
electUSA is perhaps best known for its annual summit, which pairs businesses with economic development organizations representing potential municipal and state partners. The SelectUSA agency provides one-on-one assistance to companies to help them make informed decisions. Its services include explaining U.S. regulations and business rules, providing data and research reports, helping companies choose a geographic region, and facilitating networking with potential partners and resources. There is no minimum business size to receive assistance. “Small-tomedium businesses are really kind of our sweet spot,” U.S. Trade Commissioner Brenda VanHorn says. Companies from all sectors can work with SelectUSA. Pune-based Bharat Forge is building a large plant in North Carolina to supply the automotive and transportation industries. Mumbai’s Cipla Pharmaceuticals worked with SelectUSA to build a factory in Massachusetts to manufacture inhalers using innovative technology that doesn’t currently exist outside of India. SelectUSA partners with Indian companies interested in investing in the United States in a variety of sectors, including manufacturing and technology. Specialty programs include a new six-month Select Global Women in Tech Mentorship Network for female tech founders, entrepreneurs and executives. “Our mandate from Congress is to increase
jobs in the U.S.,” VanHorn says. “We do that through helping businesses in America export to overseas markets. And we do that by helping businesses in other countries invest in the U.S.” While this year’s summit was virtual, it was still a successful experience for its participants. “Nine Indian companies spoke at the 2021 summit. Three of the companies had the opportunity to speak directly in one-on-one plenary sessions with state governors about doing business in their states,” VanHorn says. India routinely sends one of the largest delegations to the SelectUSA conference each year. The agency has its own staff in India, which is a testament to the importance of the special relationship between India and the United States, says SelectUSA Regional Investment Specialist Shamli Menon. SelectUSA Tech, a Shark Tankstyle start-up pitch program at the summit, was so successful in its first year that they ran out of room and had to turn people away at the door. Two Indian companies were chosen to compete in this year’s tech challenge out of all of the companies worldwide that applied. But SelectUSA’s services are available outside the summit as well. “The agency is there yearround to assist businesses,” says VanHorn. She also notes that SelectUSA works with and can put businesses in contact with a large network of governmental agencies. “There are so many people who can help. It can be kind of overwhelming for a small business here in India to know who to go to first. We’re the people they should go Left: U.S. Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh (from right), U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo, and President and CEO of Siemens Corporation Barbara Humpton at the virtual SelectUSA Summit in June 2021. Right: Executive Director of SelectUSA Dina Beaumont (right) met with Bharat Forge in Sanford, North Carolina, to congratulate them on their aluminum forging mill. Bharat Forge is a multinational company headquartered in Pune.
Investing in By CANDICE YACONO
14 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021
is closed. That is a very vulnerable position to put your company in. At the summit, we were seeing speaker after speaker talking about how they were shifting their plans; how the supply chain needs to be shortened,” she says. “Indian businesses who are considering expansion should look at where their markets are, and they should consider how they can have the shortest supply chain to get to that market.”
Candice Yacono is a magazine and newspaper writer based in southern California. Graphic by Qasim Raza, photograph courtesy @SelectUSA/Twitter
to first. We provide a sort of concierge service to help them find the people who can help them,” says VanHorn. One of the least-known but most important benefits of investing in the United States is that it gives a company a special toehold in the U.S. market, along with all of its trade agreements. “Once companies have invested in the U.S., they become an American company, so they can avail themselves of all the services that are available to businesses in the U.S., no matter where the corporate headquarters is. Wherever we have a free trade agreement, they will qualify for it as a U.S. company,” says VanHorn. “It’s one of the reasons companies look at America, and why America continues to be the number one investment destination. It’s not just that we have the world’s wealthiest consumer market. We also have all these great trade pacts and free trade agreements. We also are one of the easiest places to do business in the world because of our strong regulations and our intellectual property protections. Because of the rule of law that we work and live under, it’s a really easy place to do business.” Moving forward, VanHorn thinks the need for investment in the United States might increase due to what the pandemic taught the world about the importance of supply chain management, saying the era of just-in-time inventory is over. “We have learned from the pandemic that it’s a very dangerous position to be in, when you can’t get lifesaving goods because they’re only made in one location and that location
the United States To share articles go to https://spanmag.com SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021 15
Entrepreneurs By JASON CHIANG
WE Hub fosters women entrepreneurship via incubation, access to government resources, and the creation of a global collaborative network for womenled enterprises to thrive.
n 2017, the theme of the U.S. State Department’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) hosted in Hyderabad was “Women First, Prosperity for All,” providing a major step toward advancing women’s participation in the Indian economy. After identifying the clear need for a dedicated platform to support and guide women entrepreneurs during the summit, the Government of Telangana conceptualized a women entrepreneurs hub, or WE Hub, and announced its inception in March 2018. “The summit sparked a conversation that led to an immediate action of creating a platform that encourages, scales up, and creates a funnel for more women to be a part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” says Deepthi Ravula, the chief executive officer of WE Hub. WE Hub’s mission is to focus exclusively on women-led start-ups and enterprises at the early ideation stage. It guides entrepreneurs with innovative ideas through the development of a proof of concept or a minimum viable product with technical support,
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mentoring and networking. “Any woman–be it an aspiring entrepreneur or someone who is just starting out or looking to scale–can approach WE Hub for assistance,” says Ravula. “A major aspect that WE Hub has been able to do very well is to bring the entire ecosystem on one collaborative platform to enable and foster women entrepreneurship.” In addition to incubation and mentoring, WE Hub also offers women-led start-ups access to its onsite facilities including co-working office spaces, conference rooms, an auditorium for presentations and a children’s play area. As Ravula explains, “The key differentiator is that WE Hub is a sectoragnostic incubator, which works with every incubator across the country. While being an incubator, we are also an enabler for girls and women in technology and entrepreneurship, policy implementation and credit linkages.”
New initiatives In July 2021, 47 women-led Indian start-ups graduated from WE
Hub’s incubation program. In the presence of Telangana Minister for Information Technology, Electronics and Communications KT Rama Rao, WE Hub announced the launch of three new programs. As part of Empowering the Greater 50%, WE Hub will partner with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry to kick-off a program to incubate 100 aspiring women entrepreneurs and launch an incubation program for 20 established start-ups across India. Girls in STEAM is another initiative launched to create a new platform for women entrepreneurs in the field of data science, artificial intelligence and allied
Left: Telangana Minister for Information Technology, Electronics and Communications KT Rama Rao (center) and Deepthi Ravula (left) at the ceremony where 47 women-led start-ups graduated from WE Hub’s incubation program. The entrepreneurs also showcased their products at the event (below).
domains. WE Hub, in collaboration with Women in Data Science and Stanford University, will run a cohort of 100 school students from five cities in India—Bengaluru, Srinagar, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Thiruvananthapuram— as part of this initiative. We Alpha, the third initiative, encourages female students to take up entrepreneurship. WE Hub, along with five technical educational institutions across Telangana, will support 50 students through entrepreneurial development programs, mentoring and exposure visits. In addition to launching these promising new collaborations in India, WE Hub is also hoping to reach aspiring women entrepreneurs across the world using technology. WE Hub recently premiered LauncHER—an educational video series for aspiring women entrepreneurs across the world. The 20part entrepreneurship awareness series will not only offer insights into starting a business but also enable women to share their personal professional journeys. While WE Hub is relatively new, Ravula believes the organization is moving in the right direction and already making an enormous impact. “We are going to equip women entrepreneurs with the knowledge and ecosystem we have developed in the past three years working with over 3,400 women entrepreneurs, 12 start-up programs, incubating 148 start-ups and creating over 300 jobs,” she says. Gaining access to the right information is a critical tool for furthering entrepreneurship development among women, and WE Hub hopes to create more equitable platforms for women all over the world to wield this knowledge.
Below center and below far left: In addition to incubation and mentoring, WE Hub offers women-led start-ups access to its onsite facilities like co-working office spaces and conference rooms.
Photographs courtesy WE Hub
Jason Chiang is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.
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AWEsome Entrepreneurs By STEVE FOX
18 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021
© Getty Images
The U.S. State Department’s Academy for Women Entrepreneurs program trained women entrepreneurs in Northeast India to grow their ventures, raise capital and network with fellow business owners.
Courtesy Prithviraj Nath
Courtesy Vishu Rita Krocha
eing part of the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) program has filled all the gaps in my world of business,” says Vishu Rita Krocha, founder and owner of Penthrill Publication House, a Nagalandbased company that publishes books by local authors. “It has not always been easy—there have been times when I didn’t have enough money to print the next book title. But despite all the challenges, I wouldn’t trade this venture for anything else.” Krocha is among 150 entrepreneurs enrolled in the AWE program, which operates in more than 50 countries to provide women entrepreneurs and early-stage business owners with the tools needed to create and grow their businesses, raise capital and network with other successful business owners.
Funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, the Indian AWE program is administered through a partnership between the U.S. Consulate in Kolkata and Asian Confluence, a Meghalaya-based think tank. Using the DreamBuilder program, a 13week online business course that covers planning, marketing, pricing, management, accounting, managing risk, funding, setting goals and more, AWE teaches women entrepreneurs what it takes to transform their dreams into reality. “I learned the process of writing a detailed business plan—what should be included in the plan, what are the factors that may affect the business, how to learn about competitors, how to do market surveys and how to grow the business,” says Daydeep Chetia, whose Assam-based organization, Let’s Learn Together, aims to provide quality education to students who face a language barrier in their studies, especially those living in semiurban and rural areas. Like others in the AWE program, Chetia’s organization was inspired by difficulties she experienced personally. “Being a student of a vernacular medium school and living in a rural area where coaching facilities are not available, I faced many problems while preparing for competitive exams because their contents are available in English or Hindi but not in regional languages,” says Chetia. “Later, I realized there are many aspirants like me. This motivated me to start a platform to help students like me to prepare for competitive Left: Vishu Rita Krocha, founder and owner of Penthrill Publication House, a Nagaland-based company that publishes books by local authors. Above: Prithviraj Nath, a senior fellow at Asian Confluence and lead coordinator for the AWE program in India.
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Courtesy Richon Kashung
Academy for Women Entrepreneurs
exams without any geographical boundary and language becoming a barrier.” AWE, which operates in Nagaland, Meghalaya, Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, helps women entrepreneurs in many different types of businesses. “The business ideas that are part of the AWE program are from a wide range of sectors and themes including healthcare, mental health, hospitality, education, agrihorticulture, food and beverages, beauty and wellness, travel and tourism, textiles, waste management, tech start-ups, and handicrafts, among others,” says Prithviraj Nath, a senior fellow at Asian Confluence and lead coordinator for the AWE program in India. Companies in the program range from two-person firms to enterprises that employ
Above: Richon Kashung, owner of October Pumpkin Co., a fragrance firm in Manipur.
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several hundred people seasonally, Nath explains. “The candidates for the AWE India program were chosen through an open call for ideas where women entrepreneurs from the five states were asked to share their innovative business ideas and future plans,” he says. “The candidates were scored on several parameters, including the innovativeness of the business idea, the impact the businesses can have in terms of economic empowerment, livelihood creation, and also whether there is a decided scope for technology intervention as part of the idea, among others. The candidates were then ranked based on their scores and 150 out of more than 250 were chosen.” Technology developed by one company in the AWE program is focused on the coronavirus pandemic, says Pankhi Kashyap at the Defence and Space Robotics Laboratory in Assam. “Initially, we were building quadruped robots to assist the frontline in battlefield and hostage situations, or in natural calamities,” she explains. “When the Covid pandemic happened, we put our research to work to develop measures to protect humans from microbial enemies and we came up with three products, well-tested and proven to deactivate the coronavirus within 30 seconds from any surface. The AWE program provided wonderful mentorship, understanding the weights a woman carries and gave the best handholding in creating a network.” “The journey has been eye-opening and life-changing,” says Richon Kashung, owner of October Pumpkin Co., a small fragrance firm in Manipur. “AWE and the DreamBuilder program have taught me things that my college education didn’t. After joining this program, I know I can do so much more in order to give back to society.” “Over the years we have had a longstanding relationship with some of these entrepreneurs and to see them benefit from the DreamBuilder training, as per their own experiences, has been very satisfying,” says Sabyasachi Dutta, executive director of Asian Confluence. “Gender equitable growth in the MSME sector is the key to the development of the Northeastern region.” MSME stands for micro, small and medium enterprises and are considered the
Courtesy Pankhi Kashyap
Left: Pankhi Kashyap from the Defence and Space Robotics Laboratory in Assam. The organization works on robotics and automation. Below: Daydeep Chetia’s Assam-based organization, Let’s Learn Together, aims to provide quality education to students who face a language barrier in their studies, especially those living in semi-urban and rural areas.
growth accelerators of the Indian economy. The relationships formed between participants in the AWE program have resulted in a network that provides ongoing support for the entrepreneurs, Nath notes. “We have been really inspired by how the women have formed strong connections and already started to facilitate each other’s ideas and businesses,” he says. “I personally feel that the high point of this engagement is to see how the women have bonded with each other during the course of this program. I strongly feel that this network, and the camaraderie that we have been able to facilitate through the AWE project, will go a long way beyond the project and continue to be a source of ideas, strength and solidarity for these AWEsome women.”
I learned the process of writing a detailed business plan—what should be included in the plan, what are the factors that may affect the business, how to learn about competitors, how to do market surveys and how to grow the business.
Courtesy Daydeep Chetia
Steve Fox is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Ventura, California.
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021 21
Entrepreneurs By STEVE FOX
Photographs courtesy Seenfire Foundation and nitiwa/iStock/Getty Images
Women entrepreneurs in North India benefit through a variety of U.S. Embassy-supported initiatives.
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rowing a company from an initial idea to a self-sustaining enterprise is a challenging journey where a helping hand can make the difference between success and failure. This is especially true for women business owners, who account for just 5.2 percent of total business owners in India, according to the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2020 report. Recognizing the problem, the U.S. Embassy New Delhi’s North India Office (NIO) conceptualized and funded grants that underwrote an ongoing series of initiatives to promote women entrepreneurship in the region. One beneficiary of these varied initiatives is Kunjpreet Arora, co-founder and head of business development for the Udaipur-based Angirus Ind Pvt Ltd., which utilizes green waste management technology to produce bricks and paver blocks from 100 percent recycled construction waste. Arora was among 100 women entrepreneurs
who participated in four virtual workshops focused on marketing and pricing strategies, financial management and preparing proposals for potential investors. The workshops were part of the Rajasthan Women Entrepreneurship Program presented by the Alliance for Commercialization and Innovation Research (ACIR) and the Nexus Start-Up Hub. “The program helped me to narrow down the target market and start with a niche segment that will be called our beachhead market,” says Arora. “The sessions and exercises helped me to think and interact with my audience to identify the market need that my product can meet.” The programs helped participants take the important step of converting research findings into viable businesses. “The Nexus and ACIR programs have been Below: A workshop for women entrepreneurs organized by U.S. Embassy New Delhi.
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Left: Kunjpreet Arora, co-founder and head of business development for the Udaipur-based Angirus Ind Pvt Ltd., participated in four virtual workshops focused on marketing and pricing strategies, financial management and preparing proposals for potential investors. Below and below left: Women entrepreneurs learned how to produce one-minute videos enhancing their business branding strategy at training workshops.
Photographs courtesy Seenfire Foundation
Courtesy Kunjpreet Arora
an eye-opener for me as I could actually understand the steps of entrepreneurship,” says Mousumi Debnath, founder of Biosolve Innovations Pvt. Ltd., a Jaipur-based start-up that provides biotechnology products and processes in the fields of healthcare and life sciences. “The hand-holding during the process of the training was very impactful in my journey of entrepreneurship.” Women who completed the workshops have stayed in touch after graduating. “The impact of these programs doesn’t stop once the workshops are done. ACIR women’s programs have a crucial element of post-program support via online communities,” says Erik Azulay, founder and president of ACIR, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting economic development and growth. “This has helped set up sustainable connections among women entrepreneurs in the program. Awareness of and connection to their peers is critical in helping these women founders know that they are not alone and is a first step in building a sustainable community.” Women entrepreneurs also learned how to create one-minute digital videos to promote their firms, through workshops funded by the U.S. Department of State and delivered in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi by the California-based Seenfire
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“At the heart of being an entrepreneur is forging ahead for yourself,” she says. “Each workshop has a specific goal, but overall we hope to continue to inspire women to keep trying, to keep forging ahead. And then turn and help others coming along behind them.” The initiatives have tapped into a natural resource that has been ignored for too long, Fischer notes. “In many ways, women have always been entrepreneurs—they just typically aren’t recognized,” she says. “Every day around the world, women find new ways to accomplish their goals. Women entrepreneurship is taking what is happening within a household and bringing it to the larger marketplace and eventually monetizing it. The world is finally beginning to see and credit the value women bring.”
U.S. Embassy New Delhi https://in.usembassy.gov/
Academy for Women Entrepreneurs
Steve Fox is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Ventura, California.
Photographs courtesy ThinkRaw India
Foundation. “We discovered that students in India are tech-savvy and eager to learn,” says Seenfire founder and chief executive officer Christoph A. Geiseler. “After our One Minute Academy in North India, women entrepreneurs in a WhatsApp group organized a seven-day vlogging challenge, and one of the videos for Mother’s Day went viral on YouTube. This was a joy and surprise for us to witness and certainly validated our impact. These workshops and the online forums empower participants to film and edit original videos, reinforce positive social norms and launch authentic grassroots narratives.” Another program, the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), helped solar power company ThinkRaw India Pvt. Ltd. focus on its key goals. The AWE program operates in more than 50 countries and was implemented in North India by NIO. It is funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the Department of State. “Our objective is to take the latest available solar and Internet of Things technology to remote areas and use them for the benefit of the farmers,” said Amrita Jagatdeo, cofounder of ThinkRaw India. “We aim at making the solutions simple so as to encourage women entrepreneurs to join agriculture farming and fish and prawn farming. The program helped us finalize the target market and revenue generation streams. It has also helped us get connected to investors for generating funds for building the market-ready versions of the product.” The U.S. Embassy’s initiatives focus on the entrepreneurs’ immediate objectives but also aim at inspiring the women who participate to keep going and use what they learn to help others. “The North India Office has been working in the women entrepreneurship space since our inception over half a decade ago,” Public Diplomacy Officer Catherine Fischer explains. “Female business leaders have joined U.S. Embassy workshops addressing various aspects of entrepreneurship, each conceived to address a specific issue or set of issues facing an entrepreneur, and also to inspire others to support women entrepreneurs.” Above right and right: ThinkRaw India, a solar company, creates products to encourage women entrepreneurs to join agriculture farming and fish and prawn farming. The Academy for Women Entrepreneurs training program helped co-founder Amrita Jagatdeo finalize the target market and revenue generation streams.
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Visual effect by Qasim Raza, photographs courtesy Sudeshna Mukhopadhyay and © Getty Images
A hybrid-style boot camp led by U.S. Consulate General Kolkata helped women entrepreneurs tap their innovative spirit and grow their businesses.
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By STEVE FOX
Left: Sudeshna Mukhopadhyay, cofounder and chief executive officer of Techweirdo, attended the boot camp online. Right: The program enabled women entrepreneurs to grow their networks and collaborate to share resources where necessary.
eastern and northeastern India. The boot camp was part of the U.S. State Department’s Breaking the Glass Ceiling project. The term “glass ceiling” refers to an invisible societal barrier that hinders women’s advancement in business and other fields. “The program enabled women entrepreneurs to overcome the barriers of entrepreneurship by growing their network, developing an ability to scale-up and pitching to raise funding,” explains Divya Rajput, program lead for the project. “Very importantly, they collaborated to share resources where necessary, rolled out new products and they did not let their ventures die but scaled up during the pandemic.” The boot camp addressed real-world challenges faced by entrepreneurs such as improving their company’s access to their target market and seeking funds from investors. There were also real-world results— Courtesy U.S. Consulate General Kolkata
espite progress in recent years, women seeking to get ahead in India’s business community still face many challenges—the World Bank estimates that in 2019, women accounted for about 21 percent of the nation’s workforce, less than one-third the men’s share of about 76 percent. The situation for women entrepreneurs may be even more problematic. Entrepreneurship among women is considered a vital component in boosting the economy through job creation and delivering transformational social and personal outcomes for women. But women-owned enterprises represent only 20 percent of all enterprises in India, according to a 2019 report by Bain & Company and Google. To help address this issue, the U.S. Consulate General Kolkata, in partnership with The University of Texas at Austin and the Nexus Start-up Hub, organized a hybrid-style boot camp for 25 women entrepreneurs from
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Nexus Start-up Hub https://www.startupnexus.in
The University of Texas at Austin https://www.utexas.edu
Women entrepreneurs participate in an event organized as part of the Breaking the Glass Ceiling project in Patna.
at least nine of the participants were connected to potential investors, Rajput says. The program overcame some challenges of its own. Originally scheduled for April 2020 but delayed by the pandemic, the sponsors kept the project alive and then organized a part-online, part-in-person boot camp that took place in Kolkata in April 2021 while observing strict social distancing norms. “To keep the momentum going, we conducted a series of webinars with industry experts and conducted online mentoring sessions with our participants,” says Rajput. “We also kept them focused through one-onone mentoring sessions. So, all this while during 2020, we made ourselves available to their coaching needs and helped them grow their network. As a result, at least 50 percent of them kept their ventures alive or launched new products.” Women entrepreneurs from eastern and northeastern India representing a variety of fields attended the boot camp online. Among them was Sudeshna Mukhopadhyay, cofounder and chief executive officer of Techweirdo, a Kolkata-based technology firm that uses data analytics and applied artificial intelligence (AI) services to work with businesses in industries that include manufacturing, healthcare and finance. “Techweirdo is an ‘AI as a Service’ company that works as an innovation partner to enterprises in identifying their automation needs and developing and implementing preCourtesy U.S. Consulate General Kolkata
U.S. Consulate General Kolkata
trained AI models to boost their operational efficiency and their topline growth,” says Mukhopadhyay. “Strong private and public partnerships have helped us build a strong global customer base.” She adds that 35 percent of Techweirdo’s revenues are currently accrued from the United States, Canada and Australia, and 65 percent from India. “The IRL framework built by the University of Texas at Austin, and mentors brought to us by the U.S. Consulate in Kolkata, helped me structure my marketing and financial plan for Techweirdo,” says Mukhopadhyay. IRL, which stands for inverse reinforcement learning, is the field of learning an agent’s objectives, values or rewards by observing its behavior— basically about computers learning from humans. Mukhopadhyay also founded a separate, second firm called Bundl Health, which grew out of “a personal experience of facing the glaring gap in availing holistic (health) care” and which intends “to make (health) care accessible, incentivized and seamless,” she says. “Bundl Health was a research project which we had been working on for quite some time and I finally pitched the idea-stage product during the boot camp.” Bundl Health’s AI-enabled technology platform helps healthcare companies deliver and grow as patient-first organizations. “The platform is at the pre-launch stage and is being incorporated as a for-profit company,” says Mukhopadhyay. The team of five is currently building the product to give hospitals, labs and clinics an opportunity to set up a complete remote care wing within minutes after onboarding. In addition to helping healthcare companies, Bundl Health has also developed a web application for patients. “Bundl Health’s mobile app offers convenient access to highquality care services for patients recovering after surgery at home,” says Mukhopadhyay. “It automatically manages the treatment schedule, so they do not miss anything (medication, reviews, lab tests) and their family and care-service providers are always aware of their progress, thus giving them a better chance at improving their treatment outcomes.” Steve Fox is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Ventura, California.
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Solar Loan Program for
India’s Small Businesses By JASON CHIANG
USAID and DFC’s loan program to finance rooftop solar in India will expand access to reliable sources of clean and affordable power.
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Go Online Avijit Batalik/iStock/Getty Images
The goal for the next six months includes loans worth $4 million covering 49 rooftop solar projects, 50 solarpowered micro-c cold chains in villages, and solarizing 350 bank branches in remote rural areas. 30 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021
n recent times, there has been much progress in increasing access to electricity to people across India. However, access to clean fuel remains quite low, with a stark rural-urban divide. India has set ambitious targets for expanding renewable energy resources but achieving these targets will require increased investment in proven ground-level solutions, such as rooftop solar panels. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) announced a $41 million loan program earlier this year to help finance investments by Indian small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in renewable energy solutions, including rooftop solar installations. As SMEs account for almost half of all the energy consumed in the country’s industrial sector, the loan program has the potential to significantly expand access to reliable sources of clean and affordable power, while also reducing emissions and improving air quality. India’s commercial and industrial sectors pay high fees for their electricity, making rooftop solar a critical cost-saving investment. However, SMEs and residential consumers face obstacles in securing the financing needed to install solar rooftop panels. To address this challenge, USAID and DFC also partnered with the New York-based Encourage Capital, an environmentally focused investment firm, and two Indian non-banking financial companies, cKers Finance and Electronica Finance Limited, on the new loan program. “In India’s conventional project financing market, the typical approaches that are applied do not scale for smaller projects. This is the gap which cKers
Below: India has set ambitious targets for expanding renewable energy resources but achieving these targets will require increased investment in proven ground-level solutions, such as rooftop solar panels.
has set out to fill,” says Jayant Prasad, executive director of cKers Finance. “A lot of the players in the ecosystem are very young—the segments are barely 5 to 10 years old—therefore the segments or the players are not very well understood.” According to an independent study by Encourage Capital, the rooftop solar market for SMEs in India has a potential of 15 gigawatts and presents a $9 billion market opportunity for financial institutions. “With increasing energy demand, high electricity prices and decreasing costs of solar, SMEs can find rooftop solar to be an attractive low-carbon solution for their electricity needs, but financing is still a key barrier,” says Adam Wolfensohn, managing partner at Encourage Capital. “Our fund aims to address these barriers by partnering with specialized financial institutions and providing them with growth capital and the operational assistance they need to develop and deploy innovative and commercial financing solutions to scale rooftop solar for this market.” Anurag Mishra, a senior clean energy specialist at USAID India, says within a short span of three months, the project partners, cKers Finance and Electronica Finance Limited, have provided loans for 15 projects worth $800,000; including solar projects for the textile, manufacturing, food processing and packaging industries. “The goal for the next six months includes loans worth $4 million covering 49 rooftop solar projects, 50 solar-powered micro-cold chains in villages, and solarizing 350 bank branches in remote rural areas,” he adds. According to the International Energy Agency’s “India Energy Outlook 2021” special report, India’s future energy demand through 2040 will be the highest in the world. With the sustainable energy transition already underway, there will be a significant need for specific forms of long-term capital that are reachable by key segments, such as SMEs. USAID will continue its support during the renewable energy loan program’s rollout by providing technical assistance to address quality and safety concerns in the rooftop solar market. Once these loans lower the financial hurdle for installing rooftop solar, consumers across India will gain access to the enormous benefits resulting from the transition to this sustainable energy. Jason Chiang is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.
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India's Small Businesses By NATASA MILAS
The REVIVE Alliance is facilitating the economic recovery of small business owners and workers in the informal sector, whose livelihoods are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
he REVIVE Alliance is one of the largest private sector and philanthropy-led alliances in India working on economic recovery efforts from the COVID-19 pandemic. Launched by the Samhita-Collective Good Foundation (CGF), the REVIVE Alliance is assisting micro and small businesses impacted by the pandemic through an innovative finance model that allows for long-term empowerment, and financial and digital inclusion. The REVIVE Alliance is focused on “helping facilitate the long-term recovery of the informal sector, with a focus on groups whose livelihoods are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially women and youth,” says Imrana Khera, partnership advisor at USAID India. It is estimated that 121 million Indians lost their jobs during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. “Over 91 million of these individuals were employed in the informal sector,” says Khera, “who are
typically unable to access mainstream finance to rebound from the loss of income.” The REVIVE Alliance provides grants as well as returnable grants, which give zerointerest support with a moral, not a legal, obligation to repay. These loans are used as working capital or funding for skilling to enhance the income levels of the recipients. “This finance model creates a beneficiary impact multiplier of 5 to 7 times compared to a normal grant,” Khera adds. With support from USAID, the REVIVE Alliance is able to bolster its efforts by linking U.S. International Development Finance Corporation-backed credit guarantees with the platform. “A wide grassroots network and robust relationships with organizations are critical to ensuring the right individuals and businesses receive the necessary support,” says Shagorika Ghosh, senior manager of the REVIVE Alliance at Samhita-CGF. “With informal
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34 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021
Photographs courtesy Samhita Social Ventures
So far, digital access, financial awareness, access and literacy, have been challenges for participants in the initiative. “The REVIVE platform’s primary target groups are individuals and small entrepreneurs who have no access or poor access to formal financial support,” explains Ghosh. In India, many of these entrepreneurs are women who aspire to own and operate their own businesses. “Therefore, the platform’s discovery and operations processes entail substantial communications and awareness campaigns contextualized to behaviors and cultures, regarding the support provided through financial instruments, how they work and what’s required of the recipients,” stated Ghosh. In addition to funding, REVIVE is designed to create access to further capital by commercial or commercial-philanthropy blended instruments. “REVIVE also faced many macro headwinds,” Ghosh adds. “The Alliance had to adapt continuously through the second wave [of COVID-19] and subsequent lockdowns, to ensure that the progress made by our cohorts wouldn’t be reversed and that they weren’t burdened with repayments.” Given the success of the first round of programs, there is much reason for optimism. “Within our farmer cohort, we saw 100 percent repayment rates of the returnable grants, so with the entire fund amount returned, the money is getting redeployed to a second set of farmers,” says Ghosh. “For other cohorts that are still repaying, current ongoing repayment rates stand at 92.33 percent for beauty entrepreneurs and 76 percent for street vendors.” Another area of success has been the diversity of people and businesses REVIVE is impacting. “Due to our strategy of collaboratively selecting cohorts,” Ghosh notes, “we’re providing revival and resilience support to beauty entrepreneurs, street vendors, small retail/kirana store owners, sanitation workers, blue-collar workers, entrepreneurs with disabilities, farmers, garment workers and so on.” For the upcoming year, says Naik, “REVIVE will double down on its mission and extend support to more informal worker and microentrepreneur cohorts; it will add both breadth and depth to its offerings.” Natasa Milas is a freelance writer based in New York City.
Left: The REVIVE Alliance supports self-employed individuals and microenterprises across diverse cohorts such as entrepreneurs, blue-collared workers, street vendors, construction workers, artisans and farmers. It provides accessible and affordable capital in the form of grants, returnable grants and credit.
With informal workers and microentrepreneurs across industries as a focus area, we work with companies, foundations, other funders and social organizations to select cohorts.
www.usaid.gov/india SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021 35
workers and micro-entrepreneurs across industries as a focus area, we work with companies, foundations, other funders and social organizations to select cohorts. Our decisions are based on the needs of vulnerable communities and entrepreneurs, and we place focus on cohorts that lie at the intersection of business ecosystems and social purposes.” Through this process, it’s essential to customize solutions, “including value and repayment time of returnable grants and payfor-performance instruments,” Ghosh emphasizes, along with the “type of skilling interventions, mode of delivering access to social security schemes and so on.” One example of this is the group of entrepreneurs who are part of the Indian conglomerate Godrej’s Salon-i corporate social responsibility program. The program has trained close to 250,000 businesswomen as beauticians and provided business training support. “When COVID-19 and subsequent lockdowns affected the businesses of these entrepreneurs, funds were provided to the women in the cohort through returnable grants,” says Ghosh. Helping small-scale retail stores adapt to ecommerce has also been an essential part of REVIVE’s efforts. “Small grocery stores—or kirana stores as they are called in India—form an integral part of the retail industry and local economy, and are significant livelihoods and income generators, in various pockets of urban and rural India,” explains Priya Naik, founder and CEO of Samhita-CGF. Given their proximity to communities, they were vital during the COVID-19 lockdowns. “However,” Naik continues, “the pandemic also impacted their traditional operational practices and brought increased competition from larger chains and e-commerce.” In response, REVIVE is promoting a digitization drive supported by larger business improvement efforts, and incentivized by finance instruments such as pay-forperformance or returnable grants. “The REVIVE Alliance, with SnapBizz and the Trust for Retailers & Retail Associates of India, or TRRAIN, is driving a philanthropybusiness collective effort to stimulate the adoption for digital tools and practices among kiranas,” says Naik. With “effective digital transactions, better inventory management and efficient customer service, these small kiranas will be able to achieve higher business efficiency,” Naik asserts.
Fulbright-Nehru Fellow Lauren
researched the different aspects of mentorship and its potential influence on India's entrepreneurial ecosystem.
t was a statistic—that more women than men drop out of the workforce—which set Lauren Week on her Fulbright-Nehru journey to India. Always interested in concepts of mentorship and how it could create empowered professional organizations where both men and women can flourish, she applied for a Fulbright-Nehru fellowship to explore this further. During her project, Week researched the impact of female mentorship and its influence on India’s workforce gender paradigm, as a Fulbright-Nehru student researcher at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, Week worked in nearby Silicon Valley, where she mentored ninthgrade students at local public high schools. “I worked with them for almost five years and that’s kind of what got me interested in mentorship specifically,” she says. Week later moved to New York City where she continued to mentor students while also working at D. E. Shaw, a multinational investment management firm with offices in India. For her fellowship in 2018-19, Week applied as an at-large candidate but was primarily based in Hyderabad. Her research, mostly qualitative and sociological in nature,
saw her traveling to 17 states during the year she spent in India. “I interviewed almost 100 entrepreneurs,” she says. “Originally, I wanted to interview girls who were participating in different entrepreneurship programs in various parts of the country.” But permission to interview people below the age of 18 can often be tricky. So, she changed her focus to young adult entrepreneurs. “I was mostly going to college campuses,” she says. “I went to Kolkata as well as different business schools in Gujarat and New Delhi.” She found various sources from Startup India, a flagship initiative of the Government of India to encourage entrepreneurship in India. “I interviewed the entrepreneurs in those programs through survey questions about their experiences with entrepreneurship and mentorship and got a lot of insights,” she says. Week’s intensive research showed that mentorship programs need to be solidified in writing. “I think a lot of folks take an informal approach to mentorship but that’s not really the same as commitment,” she says. “Mentorship relationships should be formalized; from the beginning, expectations should be set.” For women entrepreneurs, Week has some specific
Courtesy Lauren Week
By PAROMITA PAIN
36 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021
recommendations. “Women want mentorship programs,” she says. “But some of the women entrepreneurs I spoke to do not want specific programs aimed at women alone. They want to be treated the same as men and want to be a part of general programs aimed at them both.” They saw this as a way to reduce the gender gap. An important aspect of Week’s work is her desire to establish long-term mentorship programs. “I know that big corporations are required to give a certain percentage to social welfare initiatives every year,” she says. “Using those resources to build and support long-term mentorship specifically for younger entrepreneurs and for those outside the top tier colleges could be very useful.” In addition, “enabling established corporations to start them would also mean an access to
Paromita Pain is an assistant professor of Global Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno.
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For her Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship in 2018-19, Lauren Week applied as an at-large candidate but was primarily based at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad.
institutional knowledge and structure to make those long-term programs feasible,” she says. Week is now in a dual program pursuing her Juris Doctor degree from The University of Michigan Law School as well as a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. “Even though I’m no longer in India physically, India still is a really big part of my life,” she says. Week is taking coursework specific to South Asia and Hindi language studies as well; all of which will come in handy as she plans her book based on her research findings during the Fulbright-Nehru fellowship.
Photographs courtesy Khethworks
Khethworks builds reliable, solar-powered irrigation systems that enable smallplot farmers to cultivate their land throughout the year and generate more income. 38 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021
Solar Solutions By NATASA MILAS
Left: A woman carries a Khethworks solar panel. The efficiency of Khethworks’ groundwater pump (below) enables it to be powered by smaller panels, making the system portable.
illions of farmers across India tend to an acre or less of land. Due to unreliable monsoons and the high cost of diesel or kerosene pumps, they are unable to cultivate their land throughout the year. Khethworks, an irrigation innovation company, has created a solar-powered irrigation system that enables small-plot farmers to farm all year round. Started at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Khethworks has been headquartered in Pune since 2016. “In areas with poor or no electrification, the only options are to depend on monsoon rains, which are becoming increasingly inconsistent due to climate change, or fuel-based pumping, which is polluting and expensive,” says Katherine Taylor, chief executive officer and co-founder of Khethworks. This dependence on unreliable seasonal cycles and utilizing fuel-based pumping systems compounds problems. “Farmers are forced to cultivate less land and to not cultivate in the summer season, a time when crops need the most water, but when market returns for the harvests are highest,” says Taylor. “Without affordable irrigation, the land lies fallow, and many farmers are forced to migrate for labor, leaving their families and communities behind.” This creates a cycle in which less land is farmed, providing less income, allowing for still less money to be invested to farm available land. Over time, the cycle shrinks and the smallholder farms become increasingly unsustainable.
Khethworks has created a solution to this problem by developing a solar-based irrigation pump. “Irrigation is a great application for solar,” Taylor explains, “because the sunnier it is, the more water you get out.” In other words, by utilizing solar energy the availability of pumping corresponds with—rather than conflicts with—the sunniest summer season, precisely when crops need the most water. “We developed a solar pump system specifically for and with marginal farmers in eastern India. Our patented solar pump system is a hyperefficient, portable, open-well submersible pump system,” Taylor says. “Our product provides affordable and sustainable irrigation, which unlocks year-round productivity, cultivation and income generation.” Khethworks’ solar pump is portable enough to be carried easily but also has the capacity for a flow rate that can satisfy the farmers’ needs by tapping into their existing irrigation system. “Farmers carry the two solar panels, pump and controller from their homes to their fields, when and where they need it, across fragmented plots and scattered water sources, with no installation required. They connect the panels and pump to the controller, drop the pump in a water source, and push a button for water to flow,” Taylor explains. There are no fuel costs involved and when the pump is not in use, it is small enough to be easily stored away. Taylor and her co-founders developed this product as part of a Tata fellowship at MIT, a program designed to enable scientific talent to work on challenges affecting India. “Through
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Irrigation is a great application for solar because the sunnier it is, the more water you get out.
MIT Tata Center https://tatacenter.mit.edu/
40 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021
this fellowship, we were able to travel to India and learn directly from the farmers,” she says. Here, the team learned about the need for affordable year-round irrigation, “which led to us working on this problem, and enabled us to develop a solution with input from the smallholder farmers we aim to serve throughout the design process,” adds Taylor. The patented technology emphasizes high efficiency that is also sensitive to power requirements and utilizes few solar panels, making the product both affordable and portable. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the company’s productivity was affected, leading to less revenue from sales and delays in manufacturing. However, Khethworks made the most of a complex and challenging situation. “Right before the
lockdown, we distributed systems to partners in different districts so farmers could use them free of charge,” says Taylor. “We also spent time in lockdown calling our customers and NGO partners regularly to check-in and to ask how we could help.” Among the success stories of Khethworks, Taylor mentions Manoj and his wife, Shanti. “They were amongst our first customers,” she says. “Before using the Khethworks pump, Manoj was using a kerosene pump. He felt the fuel expenses for the kerosene pump were too high and his water source would not last the full summer season. After using the Khethworks pump, Manoj has increased his land size from 2 acres to 4 acres. With the Khethworks system, Manoj is making more money, has expanded his land, and spends
Above and right: The Khethworks system includes a submersible centrifugal solar pump, a controller and two solar panels. To get the pump running, farmers connect the panels and pump to the controller, drop the pump in a water source, and push a button for water to flow.
Photographs courtesy Khethworks
less time on the work.” Another success story is about how the solar pump can be shared among farmers. “Three female farmers in Orissa, Kanchan, Subhadra and Sarita, together purchased our pump in March 2021. Last year, they cultivated only chilis during the summer season, earning Rs. 8,000, using a watering can for manual irrigation,” she says. This past summer, using the Khethworks pump jointly, Kanchan earned Rs. 38,000, Subhadra earned Rs. 15,000, and Sarita earned Rs. 6,000. “This represents an over 7x increase of cumulative income in a single season,” says Taylor, “during which the pump system paid for itself.” Natasa Milas is a freelance writer based in New York City.
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021 41
Business in the U.S. By CARRIE LOEWENTHAL MASSEY
a legal and business expert in the United States and India, outlines how start-ups can navigate American markets.
or Indian start-ups looking to do business in America, the road can be complex. “The problem is not the known knowns or the known unknowns. It is the unknown unknowns that will get you,” says Vijit Chahar, an attorney licensed in both India and New York, who also holds a doctorate degree in law and economics. Chahar’s master class, “Doing Business in the U.S.: A Legal Primer for International Entrepreneurs and Start-ups,” held virtually in April 2020 through the Nexus Start-up Hub at American Center New Delhi, sought to help Indian start-ups avoid some of the pitfalls of these “unknown unknowns.” These pitfalls can include legal penalties and civil suit damages in the United States for violations that, in India, lead to small fines, but in America, “may result in a penalty that bankrupts the entire company,” Chahar says.
Knowing the law
Courtesy Vijit Chahar
Chahar designed the master class around the key areas of U.S. law with which, he feels, Indian start-ups need to be most familiar. These include “corporate law (if registered in the U.S.), intellectual property law, importexport regulations, product liability laws, tax law and contract law (for licensing, distributor arrangements, etc.).” Some businesses may also need to know other applicable regulations like Federal Communications Commission rules applying to wireless equipment, says Chahar. But that’s not all.
42 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021
“The U.S. is very much unlike India in that state and municipal (or) local laws have far greater reach. This means that Indian start-ups need to know and comply with federal, state and local laws that impact their business. It is practically impossible for a layman to get all this right so getting proper legal advice is essential,” explains Chahar. With this breadth of legal ground in mind, Chahar aimed to cover enough in the master class to help participants figure out which questions to ask when formulating their specific U.S. strategies to avoid a mistake that leads to “an expensive education through the U.S. court system,” he says.
Negotiating contracts Knowing the fine points of contract negotiation is particularly important when working with U.S. businesses. “The most important thing for start-ups to keep in mind when negotiating commercial contracts is that some contracts are negotiable and some are not. For example, large corporations like Walmart will not negotiate the terms of their purchase agreements with small suppliers while a smaller company would be open to negotiating a custom contract for outsourcing their inventory management so that the service perfectly meets their requirements,” says Chahar. In such cases, he recommends working with legal advisors to negotiate terms of custom contracts with clients rather than using
Collage by Qasim Raza, photographs © Getty Images
Above: The master class by Vijit Chahar (below left) was designed around the key areas of U.S. law with which, he feels, Indian start-ups need to be most familiar.
“standard, off-the-shelf legal agreements.” Seeking targeted legal advice avoids problems that can arise because of differences in business cultures. “U.S. businesses are more wary of renegotiating contracts than Indian businesses,” he says, “so the consequences for being unable to fulfill the terms of your agreement are greater in terms of reputation and likelihood of repeat business.”
Raising funds in U.S. capital markets
Nexus Start-up Hub www.startupnexus.in
Chahar works mostly with U.S. seed and venture investors that invest exclusively in Delaware C Corporations, which are companies owned by shareholders through the ownership of stock in the corporation. These seed and venture investors look for compliance with “all legal formalities and standard business practices,” he says. As with contract negotiations, undoing mistakes with investors can be more cumbersome than doing the work upfront to prevent errors from happening, which is why Chahar says “it is essential to slow down and get it right at the start.” He recommends that Indian start-ups incorporate in the United States “if they foresee substantial revenue or partnerships developing there and not just because they think it might lead to higher valuations.” If incorporating in the United States doesn’t seem to make sense, he notes that “most big American venture capitalists have offices in India that have access to significant resources for start-ups registered there.”
Forging a unique path According to Chahar, “the key problem for Indian start-ups doing business in the United States is a lack of preparedness and sequacious decision-making.” Too often Indian start-ups come to him with plans based on what other founders have done in the past. “This is acceptable when picking some boilerplate agreements but to enter an entirely different legal, business and economic environment with a hand-me-down business plan is a recipe for disaster, especially since the information passed down may apply to a very different start-up in a very different business,” Chahar explains. “It is essential to formulate a business plan for U.S. expansion that works for each individual company informed by U.S. laws, business practices and its economy,” he says. “I feel overreliance on what worked for others and insufficiently informed strategy regarding the most effective way to do business in the U.S. is the biggest challenge facing Indian start-ups doing business [in America].” Chahar expects to do a follow-up master class in the coming months, though a date has not yet been finalized. The content would build on the previous class, continuing to guide start-ups through the legal work necessary to maximize their potential in the American market. Carrie Loewenthal Massey is a New York Citybased freelance writer.
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Photographs courtesy Biological E. Limited
Registered under RNI-6586/60
On October 25, U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) COO David Marchick and Biological E. Limited Managing Director Mahima Datla unveiled the expansion of Biological E.’s vaccine manufacturing facility in Hyderabad and finalized a U.S. government financing arrangement formalizing $50 million to expand the company’s capacity to produce COVID-19 vaccines. The continued partnership will help bolster near-term COVID-19 response efforts and will also benefit long-term global health in India and throughout the Indo-Pacific region. This work is in support of the historic commitment set out by President Joe Biden and his counterparts in the “Quad”—Australia, India, Japan and the United States.
“DFC’s partnership with Biological E. will support capacity for production of more than one billion vaccine doses by the end of 2022 for India and for developing countries around the world.” —David Marchick, Chief Operating Officer, DFC